The String Cheese Incident
The String Cheese Incident
By the late 1990s, Colorado’s the String Cheese Incident stood as one of the most popular acts on the rock-oriented “jam” band circuit. Similar to other accomplished bands on the scene who flourished in the wake of the Grateful Dead, such as Phish and Widespread Panic, the String Cheese Incident developed a widespread following the old-fashioned way: through constant touring and maintaining close ties with fans. However, the String Cheese Incident took this grassroots ethic a step further. Since the group’s inception, the String Cheese Incident has remained wholly independent. In addition to founding the SCI Fidelity record label to release their own material, the band built a multi-faceted company to handle all its needs. The venture, which grosses around $3.5 million annually, includes a management arm, a gear and merchandising company, a ticketing service, and even a travel agency to serve devoted fans who follow the String Cheese Incident from city to city to attend headlining concerts (known as String Cheese “Incidents”) and summer festivals, both in the United States and overseas.
A large part of the String Cheese Incident’s appeal rests in their musical versatility and penchant for performing lengthy, hallucinogenic jams. Defying easy categorization, the String Cheese Incident blends elements of rock, bluegrass, country, soul, funk, Latin, reggae, calypso, jazz, fusion, and everything in between, both live and in the studio. The band easily adapts to improvising with artists from a variety of different styles. Over the years, the String Cheese Incident has performed with the likes of Béla Fleck, multireedist Paul McCandles, as well as percussionist Baba Olantunji and pop star Femi Kuti in Africa. “Improvisation isn’t just about kick-a** chops,” said mandolinist and violinist Michael Kang to Down Beat contributor Isaac Josephson. “It’s also about getting into a space together where you’re creating good, cohesive music as a group, and that’s what we try to accomplish on a nightly basis.”
Along with giving solid performances regardless of what direction the music takes, the String Cheese Incident also strives to create a positive, fun atmosphere for concert goers. “We’re a West Coast band, and our lives were lived around our recreation—around having a good time,” Kang concluded. “We used to ski every single day. That’s part of our identity, and we’d like to pass that on to everyone who comes into contact with us.”
The String Cheese Incident formed in the Colorado town of Crested Butte in 1993. Originally, the group consisted of four musically inclined ski bums: Kang, acoustic guitarist Bill Nershi, bassist Keith Moseley, and drummer/percussionist Michael Travis, who admittedly had little professional experience before meeting his bandmates. “I was strictly hand percussion—congas and bongos—at the beginning,” he told Josephson. “I took a village drumming course while in school in Santa Cruz [California], moved to Colorado and started playing with a couple of bands. Then I started playing with Kang and those guys, and we played so well together that I thought I might be able to make something out of this.”
According to the other members of the String Cheese Incident as well, the quartet indeed felt a unique and immediate chemistry between them. Before long, the four were choosing to jam together over hitting the ski slopes. Intending to find a wider audience, the String Cheese Incident relocated to the larger city of Boulder, Colorado, where they met and enlisted pianist/organist Kyle Hollingsworth, the only trained jazz musician in the String Cheese Incident and a longtime devotee to keyboardist Herbie Hancock, in 1996.
As a result of regular performances at smaller venues, the String Cheese Incident was arguably Colorado’s favorite jam band, and relentless touring thereafter brought the group to national attention. In late 1996 on their own label, SCI Fidelity Records, the group released its first studio album, Born on the Wrong Planet The set captured the band’s live sound, showcased a more acoustic, bluegrass side, and featured versions of fan favorites such as “Texas,” “Black Clouds,” “Johnny Cash,” and “Jellyfish.” A live album, A String Cheese Incident, followed in 1997.
In 1998, the String Cheese Incident released a second studio effort. Round the Wheel contained versions of
Members include Kyle Hollingsworth (born on March 2, 1968, in Maryland; joined group, 1996), piano, organ, accordion; Michael Kang (born on May 13, 1971, in South Korea), electric and acoustic mandolin, violin; Keith Moseley (born on February 5, 1965, in Oklahoma), five-string electric bass, four-string acoustic bass; Bill Nershi (born on September 16, 1961, in New York), six-string acoustic guitar; Michael Travis (born on April 20, 1965, in Southern California), drums, congas, djembe, percussion.
Formed group in Crested Butte, CO, 1993; after relocating to Boulder, CO, released first studio album, Born on the Wrong Planet, 1996; released Round the Wheel, 1998; released Outside Inside, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —SCI Fidelity Records, 2405 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80304, phone: (303) 544–818, fax: (303) 544–919. Management and booking —Madison House, Inc., 2405 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80304, phone: (303) 544–9900. Website — The String Cheese Incident Official Website: http://www.stringcheeseincident.com.
such songs as “Come as You Are” and “On the Road,” as well as the title track. More eclectic than their debut, the set displayed the band’s ability to jump from one genre to the next with ease, as evidenced by the Latin-infused “MLT,” the bluegrass tune “Good Times Around the Bend,” and the jazz-inspired “Galactic.” Another live album, Carnival ’99, surfaced the following year. The double-disc set culled music from 13 different performances and showcased the String Cheese Incident’s diverse abilities and willingness to experiment as they moved from electrified bluegrass and progressive rock to fusion to funk. However, some critics complained about a lack of focus, a tendency to play away from their strengths, and too much of a reliance on cover songs.
For their next project, the String Cheese Incident broke from their traditional sound. Even their prior studio albums, Born on the Wrong Planet and Round the Wheel, were largely a reflection of their live energy, instrumental skills, and improvisational abilities. With Outside Inside, released in May of 2001, the band wanted to reach people outside of the String Cheese community. “You know, we’re poised in a position of growth with the band, to where we can really reach a lot of people,” explained Moseley to St. Louis Post-Dispatch contributor Alan Sculley. “That was kind of in our minds as we were doing the project, and this is the first time that we might actually get a little bit of radio airplay, or the first time we might sell perhaps 100,000 copies of the album.”
Therefore, the band focused its energies more toward solid songwriting and arranging. “We tried to kind of trim things down to the essence of the song without all the extras,” Moseley further noted. “That was the idea, to let the songs really shine through on the album and on their own. We wanted to make it an album of really standout songs.” Outside Inside, produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, proved the String Cheese Incident’s most cohesive and accessible album. Nevertheless, the band retained their sense of adventure by drawing from an array of influences: R&B, soul, reggae, country, Latin (“Latinissmo”), and Cajun (“Up the Canyon”).
In support of the album, the String Cheese Incident spent the summer on tour, headlining several dates and making appearances at festivals and with groups such as Widespread Panic. “We’re coming up on 1,200 shows in the last seven years,” Moseley said to Dan Julian of the University Wire before a concert at Michigan State University. “Things are starting to get a little blurred.”
Born on the Wrong Planet, SCI Fidelity, 1996.
A String Cheese Incident (live), SCI Fidelity, 1997.
Round the Wheel, SCI Fidelity, 1998.
Carnival ’99 (live), SCI Fidelity, 1999.
Outside Inside, SCI Fidelity, 2001.
Down Beat, June 2001.
St.Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 2001, p. 23; April 22, 2001, p. F6.
University Wire, April 23, 2001; May 7, 2001.
String Cheese Incident Official Website, http://www.stringcheeseincident.com (June 23, 2001).
"The String Cheese Incident." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/string-cheese-incident
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